The Freedom to Lead [and to Fail]

In 1995, I was a Pathfinder completing my Gold Camp Badge.

It was a disaster.  We scheduled activities too close together, didn’t allow enough time for meal prep and cleanup, and there was a group of air cadets camped between us and the bathroom.

My leaders, even though I am sure they were frustrated to no end, let us lead though.  They kept us in check, and we definitely had a few de-briefing sessions with them during camp and after, including a sit down on Saturday afternoon where we re-worked the schedule for the rest of the weekend.  But they gave us the freedom to lead, and the freedom to fail.

Several years later, I was a guest Guider at another camp where the girls were earning their Gold Camp Badge.

Again, it was a disaster.

It was a disaster for different reasons.  The girls wrote a schedule, and the leaders re-wrote it.  The girls wrote a menu, and the leaders re-wrote it.  Then, while at camp, on the fly the leaders changed their own re-write of the schedule.  The poor girls couldn’t attempt to lead without being overridden by their leaders.

Now obviously, there are times when we need to step in.  If the schedule includes peanut butter for lunch at a nut-free camp, the leaders need to step in.  But if the schedule has the girls preparing an elaborate meal that is probably beyond them…. well, that will probably be a learning experience.  No one will starve.  And the leaders can pack bread and cheese to make grilled cheese sandwiches for everyone as a backup.

I guarantee you that I learned more from my failed camp than the girls did at the one I was a guest at.  Having the skill to plan a camp at 15 years old translates to skills to plan a project and see it through in the workplace later on.  And failure amongst peers at 15 is much less life-changing than failure amongst ones co-workers at 30.

Girls at all levels of Guiding have the ability to lead, right down to Sparks.  We need to provide the girls with the opportunities to lead, and the opportunities to fail, within this safe environment.   And, I bet that if you give your girls just a little bit more freedom to lead – both themselves and others – that they will surprise you!


Blogger Leslie & Kids

Blogger Leslie & Kids

By Guest Blogger Leslie Potvin.  Leslie is a Community Guider in the Town of Georgina, Ontario.
Check out her personal blog The Mighty Tiny Chicken Ranch.

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8 Responses to The Freedom to Lead [and to Fail]

  1. This is so important. Learning by failure is sometimes the best way of learning.

  2. Amy "Snowy Owl" Ruttan says:

    Great post! Letting girls do things on their own is the best way to learn. I think if the leaders step in too much and do things for the girls they’ll never learn. It’s hard, especially when dealing with younger units, but in the long run it’s better for the girl. I know that’s the way I learned when going through Guiding! I also learned don’t stick cloves in oranges in your tent during your Gold Camp. Holy moly, the smell still makes me sick to this day! LOL!

  3. jmd says:

    Could not agree more! Even planning something as small as a holiday party is something they can get a chance to lead at. If they fail, they’ll learn and the party will still be fun.

    Basically I believe, if you expect that they can’t do something, they will assume they can’t do it either. If you tell them they can do it and they know that you expect them to come through, they will.

  4. Heather says:

    So true! I broke my foot while doing my gold camp. One thing I learned as a result is to slow down, nothing is worth tripping and ending up on crutches for a year! Translates into my life as a Guider, this year I did it all year with no Co-leader – I needed to let my Brownies take control of games and they even planned their own camp this year. I made a chart with basics of meals and activity time slots, and let them fill in their menu, grocery list, activities etc… I had to say no to skydiving, but yes to a pond study, no to swimming all night, but yes to the obstacle course! I learned a lot back then, and possibly even more this year! Happy Guiding everyone!

    • srdiane says:

      I love letting the girls lead, it is difficult sometimes when some are louder then others letting the quiet ones talk, but also that you can be fun letting them fly, That’s how we ended up going to “Hawaii” from Northern BC with a tent Brownie camp, and this past year we took our Guides on a “Mediterranean Cruise” that they’d planned for their Travelers badge. Shocked them all when their welcome back to Guiding post cards were from Spain, Greece and Italy. Sister-in-Laws mother brought them back for me 🙂

  5. Kathleen says:

    Great post! Yes we want kids to succeed but sometimes that means letting them try and fail. And Pathfinders isn’t where it starts!

  6. Bri - 111th London Brownies, 1st Ontario Lone Brownies, 1st London Trex, Community Guider… says:

    As painful as it is, we are adamant that our Trex (ages 11-15) plan their camps.. food, themes, activities, and even where we will be camping! We find a huge challenge with them is an inability to think outside their little inexperienced box, and the craft and activity ideas are those that they have done in Sparks and Brownies, and thus far too young for them!

    With my Brownies, we always have them suggest breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack ideas, and we always USE their ideas… then they can’t moan and groan when that’s what we serve them! We sometimes go around with a few ideas and suggest “Write down pizza, or spaghetti, or grilled cheese if you like them!” Other than the food though, we’ve been lacking on letting them plan. Something to work on for next year.

    Great article – Thanks!!

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